If you are reading this article, then you are likely one of the nearly 75 million Americans who are planning on playing fantasy football this year. With the 2015 regular season set to kickoff tomorrow when the defending Super Bowl champion New Engalnd Patriots play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s time for fantasy owners in both daily and year-long leagues to start setting their Week 1 lineups. We have already given you the five quarterbacks and the five wide receivers who we feel have favorable fantasy matchups this week, and now it’s time to look at running backs.
Having a solid group of running backs has long been the key to fantasy football success. However, due to their injury tendencies and teams shifting to pass heavy offenses, there are no sure things anymore when it comes to fantasy running backs. With that being said, if you pay attention to matchups and injury reports, you can still find a great deal of production at the position. Now, without further ado, here is a look at five running backs with favorable fantasy matchups in Week 1.
1. Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
Ellington and the Cardinals will be hosting the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 in what should be one of the more entertaining games of the week. In terms of fantasy production, the speedy Ellington has the potential to have a huge week. The Saints had one of the worst run defenses in the league in 2014 giving up an average of 132.8 rushing yards and just over one rushing touchdown per game, and 2015 doesn’t project to be much better. Outside linebacker/defensive end Junior Galette and inside linebacker Curtis Lofton are no longer on the Saints’ roster, which means the Saints will be without two of their best front seven defensive players from last year. To make matters worse for New Orleans, Ellington will be running behind an Arizona offensive line that added All-Pro guard Mike Iupati this offseason. On top of that, the 26-year-old is one of the top pass-catching backs in the league. Fantasy owners should expect Ellington to total close to 100 rushing yards and 40-50 receiving yards this week.
2. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
For the first time in his seven-year NFL career, Stewart will not be splitting carries with DeAngelo Williams this season. While we have been high on his fantasy potential all offseason for this very reason, we also believe he is in line for a heavier workload seeing as how the Panthers lost wide receiver Kelvin Benjamim for the season with a torn ACL. In Week 1, the Panthers will be facing the Jacksonville Jaguars, who again project to have one of the worst defenses in the league in 2015. We are anticipating a 100-yard day out of Stewart with at least one touchdown.
3. DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia Eagles
All signs point to Murray being healthy and ready to roll for the Eagles in their Week 1 game against the Atlanta Falcons. We are fully expecting Murray to lose some carries to Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews, but we are still confident that the 2014 NFL Offensive Player of the Year will produce big-time fantasy numbers in this game. The Falcons have a new attitude defensively, but they simply haven’t had enough time to make the necessary personnel adjustments to become a team that can consistently stop the run. If Murray can end up getting 20 or more carries, which we think he will, he will likely end up posting 100 rushing yards this week.
4. Chris Ivory, New York Jets
Ivory earned the starting running back spot for the Jets this preseason, and is a guy who we believe could be a fantasy stud in Week 1. The Jets will be taking on the Cleveland Browns this week in a matchup of teams that are looking to bounce back after terrible 2014 seasons. While the Browns did a lot to improve their defense that finished dead last in the league against the run in 2014, we still think Ivory will run wild in this game. Expect the 27-year-old back to get 20 or more carries and be targeted on 3-5 passes out of the backfield. With that many touches, he should finish the game with well over 100 total yards of offense.
5. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
We strongly believe that Peterson will be a fantasy monster all season, and it will all start this week against a rebuilding San Francisco 49ers defense. The 31-year-old back is highly motivated to prove that he is still the game’s best running back, and the Vikings have made it clear that they are planning on giving him the ball early and often this season. Don’t be surprised if the 2012 NFL MVP has a 150-yard, multiple touchdown performance this week.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.